Most children play house; Camila Villa played office. The Colombian from Bogotá was the youngest of four girls, and ever since she was little, she’s dreamt of joining the corporate world. She remembers pretending to be an important executive in a Bogotá high-rise—one who gave jobs to her older siblings.
Fast forward several years, and Villa has turned her dream into a reality. As a director of talent management at Baxter, she’s helping the leading medical device company build culture, manage change, complete a post-acquisition integration, and define its employee experience.
It’s taken years of hard work for Villa to get to where she is today. She first lived vicariously through an older sister who worked for British Petroleum (BP) and dazzled Villa with stories about life in a real office. Villa tagged along to company functions, volunteered to help plan year-end events, and met people working in human resources (HR).
An interest in art drove her to study industrial design, but the dream of making an impact in big business never died. Villa quickly switched courses and eventually left the Universidad de Los Andes with a bachelor’s in business administration and management.
A formal internship with Citibank kicked off Villa’s career and led to a full-time role in which she coordinated the expatriates program. Villa enjoyed working in her native country and transitioned to Syngenta. That’s where an influential mentor taught her the power of focusing on leadership development.
“Leaders are the ones who carry responsibility to move a company and impact the lives of employees,” Villa says. “Leaders can bring out the full potential in people.” That’s what that mentor did for Villa, and she, in turn, wanted to do the same for others.
After two years with a food and beverage company, Villa joined Baxter in 2010 and embarked on what has become a sustained period of growth with a mission-driven company. “Coming to Baxter showed me the power of what can happen when employees connect to a company’s mission. Everyone here is working for something bigger than themselves,” she says. That something bigger is health. Baxter exists to save and sustain lives.
A move from Colombia to Miami represented a promotion but required Villa to leave family and step into the unknown. “Coming to the United States changed my life because it opened a world of new opportunities for me and my family,” she explains.
When Villa’s husband took a job in Phoenix, Baxter allowed her to work remotely from Arizona. She spent years driving strategy and leading initiatives in Latin America and Canada before leaders asked her to be part of a global talent management center of excellence in Deerfield, Illinois.
After she made the move to that headquarters, Villa first served as the LATAM talent lead and later supported the key US and Canadian pharma and hospital products business units. Now, after a stint as an HR business partner, she’s back on the talent side as Baxter’s director of talent management.
This trajectory has kept Villa busy. “I haven’t had to go somewhere else to continue to learn and grow, and I work to give other employees this experience because it’s part of what keeps people fully engaged and working at their best,” she says.
Villa is still busy today. She’s working on integrating thousands of employees from the 2021 acquisition of Hillrom, identifying and improving interactions that shape the employee experience, and rethinking the post-pandemic workplace.
Now is the perfect time to do just that. Villa leads the change management piece as Baxter puts its hundred-acre, ten-building Deerfield campus up for sale and looks for a new local home. As someone who worked remotely many years before the pandemic, Villa understands the needs of today’s hybrid workforce and knows Baxter will create a modern and purposeful new hub.
“The CARA Group, Inc. is honored to partner with Camila in support of Baxter’s organizational change management and transformation journey,” says Michelle Reid-Powell, President & CEO, The CARA Group, Inc. “She’s a values-driven leader who role models lifelong learning, and has been able to put those values to work and influence countless others to grow in their careers.”
Villa relishes the opportunity to lead and says her status as a Latina has been an advantage. “If nobody else in the room has lived in a different country or knows a different culture, then I have something to offer that can help us think differently about a program or a tool we’re designing for a broad audience,” she says.
As she thinks back to the young girl who used to dream of life in the corporate office, Villa feels a sense of pride. She thinks of her father, who has passed away, and wishes he could see all that she’s accomplished.
After all, it is a result not only of passion and hard work but of the values imparted and the sacrifices made by her parents. “I’ve lived a story I’m proud of,” Villa says. “And it’s something I’m proud to share with my own children so I can show them that hard work and determination make dreams come true.”